By Jerry Scherer

"Theyíre friendly faces," I explain.

Margaret and I have been married sixteen years, and I feel comfortable talking to her, regardless of the topic.

"John, even if I wasnít a psychologist, seeing imaginary faces is not healthy, friendly or otherwise." Margaret gets up from her chair and circles the room once before sitting beside me on the sofa. "Iím not surprised. The long hours you work and with the pressure your sadistic boss puts not only on you, but the rest of the sales staff, Iím shocked the whole lot of you arenít seeing things."

"Itís nothing to get overly concerned about. Actually I find their presence quite calming. If I could just figure out what theyíre trying to tell me."

"You need help John. You really do. Let me make you an appointment with Dr. Fellows. I work with the man every day, and heís an excellent psychiatrist."

"I donít see the need for him," I argue.

Margaret turns and embraces me. "Please, Love? For me?"

Reluctantly, I agree to her request.

Itís morning and Margaret is driving me to the hospital. I didnít sleep well. The friendly faces were trying desperately to explain something. If only I could have understood them I might feel more at ease.

"Dr. Fellows," Margaret begins, "this is my husband, John."

"John," Dr. Fellows responds, shaking my hand. I do not like him; his hands do not feel warm and friendly. "Margaret told me about your problem and Iíll do everything I can to help."

"Problem?" I ask.

Dr. Fellows either didnít hear me or was choosing to ignore me. "If youíll follow me, John, weíll get you checked in."

I follow him down a long hall to a set a double doors. I barely pass into the next room when those same doors slam shut behind me.

"Whatís going on?" I ask loudly. Though I try, the doors will not reopen. "Why have you locked me in?"

Viciously I pound on the doors, demanding my release. Then from behind I see them. Men in white coats ascend upon me. Soon I am lying on my back. I struggle. The more I do, the tighter their hold becomes.

"Why are you doing this?" I scream. "What have I done? My wife! Where is Margaret?"

My arms are held tight against my chest. My legs are unable to move. From the corner of my eye I see the friendly faces, but they are unable to help. They can only look upon what is happening in disbelief. Other people now surround me. Can they not see?

Have they no compassion? I continue to struggle, as pain begins to fill my head. I have been stabbed. Not once, but twice. My body feels like it is no longer attached to me. It now belongs to the white coats. I am stabbed again, and darkness begins to fill the room.

With my last ounce of consciousness I try to find the friendly faces, but they are not there. I relax, happy that at least they were able to escape.

I am told others judge you by the company you keep. I trust that is not so. I am in something called a day room. Many people clutter this room. Some cry uncontrollably, while others laugh for no apparent reason. I walk toward one of the many windows surrounding the room. My legs are tired, and each step I take is an effort. I must try to figure a way out, but it is impossible. Heavy metal obstructions guard both the inside and outside of each window.

Turning away, I wonder why Margaret hasnít come to see me. Then I see a familiar sight. It is the friendly faces. They are smaller in number, but I find comfort in their existence. For the first time since my arrival, I am able to smile.

Time passes. I have begun to accept my surroundings, and spend most of my time watching television, though it is doubtful I could tell you what I have seen. The friendly faces have deserted me. I feel very lonely, and wonder how I will make it without them. Margaret has yet to visit me, and the white coats will not tell me why.

Two years, three months, twenty-seven days, four hours and sixteen minutes. This is how long I have remained a prisoner. I am told I am cured, but of what I have no idea, only that after I see Dr. Fellows I will be permitted to leave.

"Good morning, John," Dr. Fellows says, as I enter his office. "I assume youíve been told weíre discharging you today?"

"I have. Will Margaret be here to pick me up?"

Dr. Fellows leans back in his chair before answering. "Iím afraid not, John. Your wife divorced you a year ago and has since remarried."

Inside I feel like tearing the office apart, but I know that if I do I will not be permitted to leave, so I do my best to remain calm.

"Why wasnít I told about this, Dr. Fellows?"

"At the time I didnít feel you could handle it; but I must say, your reaction is much better than I anticipated."

Dr. Fellows hands me a piece of paper with three addresses on it.

"You will have to start a new life, John. The first address is a homeless shelter downtown. You can stay there tonight. The second is the location of Social Services. Theyíll assist you in finding sufficient housing. The last address is the free clinic. You will be required to return there twice a week for follow-up treatments and medication."

Dr. Fellows hands me another piece of paper. I must sign this one acknowledging all the instructions he has given me.

"John, you understand that if you donít follow the instructions the authorities will pick you up and return you to the hospital."

"I understand, Dr. Fellows" I reply. I sign the sheet, and give it back to him.

Dr. Fellows places the paper inside my file, hands me a bottle of pills which will last until I am to report to the clinic, then walks me to the door. At last the final obstacle is in front of me. A lone white coat unlocks the door, and I pass into the sunlight.

I am free now and in control of my own life. I place the medication Dr. Fellows has given me in the first available trash receptacle. Within days, Iím beginning to feel like my old self. Not only have the friendly faces returned, but now I have the ability to understand what they are saying. With sympathetic eyes they look at me and confirm what until now I have only suspected. I manage to control the rage inside me, at least for now.

I am surprised; the back door key I kept hidden beneath the tool shed still works. I enter the house through the kitchen, stopping long enough to retrieve a utensil from one of the cabinet drawers. Creeping ever so quietly up the stairs to the bedroom, I open the door and make my way to the side of their bed.

I raise the icepick high over my head and plunge it deep into Margaretís cheating heart. Quickly I move to the man beside her. Margaretís new husband opens his eyes just as the pointed shaft starts to penetrate his chest. It gives me great pleasure that Dr. Fellows is able to witness his own murder.

I am back in the hospital; a small price to pay, really. I know how to play the games the white coats play, so I feel quite comfortable living here. Though I donít understand why, the friendly faces have faded completely from my life. I will miss them.